Spanish court deals new blow to Catalan independence vote

Spanish court deals new blow to Catalan independence vote

On Monday, hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets in a pro-independence march marking the Catalan national day, known as "Diada".

So far, 712 municipal leaders have pledged to allow the use of public space for the October 1 vote, although the mayor of the area's main city Barcelona has not taken a definitive position.

Since 2012 the holiday has been used by separatists to press for an independent state. Authorities have also filed criminal charges against Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, among other officials, saying he was only authorized to call an election not a referendum. However, a majority of Catalans want to vote on the issue.

The Constitutional Court last Thursday suspended the referendum after a legal challenge by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Puigdemont, however, has vowed that his government would go ahead with the planned referendum. Spain's constitution bars regions from unilaterally calling an independence referendum.

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"I trust they will be left in peace and not be obliged to do what they can not", Catala told RTVE television.

The pro-independence coalition governing Catalonia says the October 1 ballot will go ahead despite a ruling by Spain's Constitutional Court suspending the vote until judges can rule on its legality. Catalan society is deeply divided over independence. A survey at the end of July found that 49.4% of Catalans were against independence and 41.1% supported it. Some 70 percent wanted a referendum, however, to settle the question once and for all.

Like the referendum held in Britain a year ago on the country's membership in the European Union, the issue in Catalonia pits rural areas - which are more pro-independence - against large urban centres like Barcelona which are more in favour of remaining in Spain.

Catalonia, which is roughly the same size as Belgium and has its own language and customs, already has significant powers over matters such as education and healthcare.

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